Living With Your Narcissistic Mother
Needless to say, living with your narcissistic mother is an absolute ordeal. Daughters of narcissistic mothers can end up living with their narcissistic mother under a number of different circumstances.
I have spoken with a lot of DONMs in these various situations, and here are my thoughts on the topic, informed by those conversations. Judge what I say on its own merits and see if it makes sense to you, rather than taking it as any kind of gospel.
You can follow the links below to click on the section about your specific circumstance, and also look at the section to the right to read suggestions that apply to all the circumstances.
Still Living At Home As A Dependant
If you are living at home still, as a teenager or student, in one way you are in a very good position.
I know it doesn’t feel that way, but the reason I say it is this: you know what’s going on. The fact she is probably narcissistic (and certainly abusive enough to make you consider that she may be narcissistic) is a major advantage to you. My experience is that many daughters of narcissistic mothers don’t even realise the truth until they are much older, perhaps even in their forties or so. Those women have spent years dealing with the abuse and experiencing the fallout of the abuse and thinking it was their fault for not being a good enough daughter and so on.
You at least are that much ahead of the game.
As for the time while you’re still living with her: My suggestion to you is to concentrate hard on your education because that is the key to your freedom.
I suggest you are careful about who you share things with as most people won’t believe you. Mostly we daughters of narcissistic mothers experience people saying, “But of course she loves you, don’t be silly.” Or they might say, “Oh I know! My mother’s really annoying too,” when their mother’s little foibles are nothing like your mother’s narcissistic abuse. It’s ironic because we get so much invalidation from our narcissistic mothers, and here are other people invalidating us with the best of intentions.
In their reality it is far more likely that you are wrong/over dramatic/suffering from teenage angst etc, than that she is horrible to you. Again, don’t put yourself in the situation of trying to explain it to people who don’t get it, I suggest. Just say nothing to those ones.
But if there is someone who does get it, perhaps a school counsellor or similar, then do use that resource for sure. You might have to look hard and try a few people before you find the right one, but it is worth doing that for sure.
What about siblings?
If you have younger siblings living at home, it can be a horrendous dilemma for you. Depending on your specific family dynamic, you might have spent your whole life protecting them as best as you could from your mother, and the thought of abandoning them is too much.
You do need to look after yourself, and unfortunately if you have to abandon your siblings to do so, then that’s what you have to do. It’s heart-breaking and such an awful situation to be in, but it is the reality these narcissistic mothers create.
Still living at home as an older adult or having to move back home due to difficulties in your life
Or, you might be a woman who is definitely of the age to have left home, but hasn’t done so yet.
Now, there are of course good and healthy reasons for an adult woman to be still living at home, but we’re not talking about those. We’re talking about the dysfunctional narcissistic relationship.
You might be still living at home because you need her, or because she needs you.
By you needing her, I mean that you are not in a position to look after yourself in the world.
The irony is that daughters of narcissistic mothers are handicapped in their lives by the narcissistic abuse they’ve experienced, and so are probably more likely than daughters of functional mothers to end up still, or back, at home.
Judging from my correspondence with women who have been in this situation, their narcissistic mother is going to love this situation, especially if her daughter has had to move back home after trying to be independent.
She (the narcissistic mother) gets to play the part of the hero, and the narcissistic supply that comes from that.
And she gets to have her daughter, already vulnerable from whatever experiences have left her with no option but to go home, at her mercy.
The narcissistic mother will react in one of two ways:
- Overt abuse, or
- supposed kindness.
If she picks the first option, she’ll abuse her daughter for being in a bad situation, knowing that the daughter has no choice but to suck it up. Because nothing says “I love you” like kicking someone when they’re down. So you might get tirades such as, “No wonder your husband kicked you out/your boss fired you/you lost your job/you’re too mentally unwell to work, because you’re a born loser.”
This is pure psychological abuse and unfortunately it’s all too real. As already said, the irony is that you are probably only in that situation because you were handicapped from birth by your upbringing.
The advice here is to do whatever it takes to get back on your feet as soon as possible, and move out as soon as you can. Don’t wait for circumstances to be perfect before you move out, as the longer you are with her the more she’ll grind you down and make it harder for you to leave or manage on your own. Obviously use your best judgement here; make sure you don’t move out to a worse situation such as a drug-infested squat. But perhaps a house-share rather than your own place, for example. Or try to get a live-in job somewhere.
If you have children …
If you have children then my heart absolutely goes out to you because it’s a nightmare. It’s simultaneously more difficult and more essential to get out as soon as possible. Because your mother will abuse your children as she abused you, either by scapegoating them or trying to take them over.
If your children are old enough then the best is to explain it to them I think, in age-appropriate terms, and as you judge best. And to do your best to protect them from your mother while not antagonising her – an impossible task I know, but that’s what you need to aim for.
It’s also possible that you are more competent than you realise, but your narcissistic mother is, as one DONM put it to me very eloquently, sabotaging you with kindness. Of course, it’s not real kindness; it’s pure sabotage masquerading as kindness. She has you convinced that you’re not able for the real world as a way of keeping you dependent on her. “Oh you! You always get these things wrong. Let me do it for you.”
In this way it’s terrifying to even contemplate living away from her, as you are convinced you won’t be able to survive or look after yourself. And it might be true that you genuinely don’t have those skills as she made it her business to prevent you having them.
This is a sticky web, and hard to escape from. I think the help of a good counsellor would benefit you here. And also, as much as possible, as much as your mother will let you, start practising your life skills. Be sneaky if you have to. The good news is that there are terrific resources all over the internet, so you can learn from those.
Still living at home as an older adult or having to move back home because she needs you
In this example I’m not talking about elderly mothers who might genuinely needs you; I talk about that below.
I’m talking about an engulfing situation where she won’t let you start living your own adult life because she wants your attention, or control over you, or both.
She might declare herself scared to live alone, or too lonely, or there might be regular health crises. The tactics will vary but the aim, and the impact, is the same: to stop you living your own life.
This is where I think a healthy selfishness is appropriate. It is not right for her to hang onto you in later years. It is the job of parents to raise their children to be independent of them, to live their own lives. It is tough for even healthy mothers; the empty nest syndrome is real. But healthy mothers accept it and even through their grief they can rejoice in seeing their daughter or son living their own life.
What you do is up to you, of course, but my own strong opinion is that she is responsible for herself, and that you have no obligation to fall for this emotional blackmail. Your life is yours to live as you choose.
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Living With An Elderly Narcissistic Mother
The next group of women who might end up with narcissistic mothers living with them are those with elderly mothers who are genuinely in need of care. The big question is: do you let her come and live with you (or go and live with her), or not?
This is a tough one and there are no easy answers. My advice would be to think very long and hard about doing it. I know that society expects it, and your own pre-programmed belief that you need to care for her demands it, and she may well be weak and imploring and pathetic which sucks you in further.
But try to think about it logically. How will it impact on your life? On your spouse or partner? On your children? Your first responsibility is to them, in my opinion.
It is hard enough to have even a loving and emotionally-healthy elderly parent living with you, but living with a narcissist is multiples harder than that again.
She will most likely wreak havoc and try to take over your household, especially as my understanding is that narcissists get more narcissistic with age (or, perhaps more accurately, care less about trying to hide it).
I read so many heart-breaking stories when I had the forum about daughters who had taken in their elderly narcissistic mothers and it had ruined everything for them.
One daughter of a narcissistic mother wrote to me recently and we were discussing this, and she said that she didn’t want to repay evil with evil by refusing to take her mother to live with her. I take her point entirely, but my point would be that I do not think it is evil to prevent an abuser from coming to live with you. You have the right to protect yourself and your own family from an abuser.
So What Do You Do?
So, what do you do instead? You can do nothing. Let her be responsible for herself. That is definitely one possibility, and one that I am going to choose myself. I very much doubt that my estranged parents will ask me for help, but if they do, I will say no. Not in anger, not in revenge, not for any nasty reasons. It’s just that they are strangers to me now and I do not have either the resources or the responsibility to care for elderly strangers. There are elderly people all over our country, and all over the world, in need of care, and we do not feel obliged to take them in.
I am still struggling to deal with the mess they made of my own life, frankly, to play catch-up on all the years I lost in so many aspects of my life – I just wouldn’t have the resources to take care of them. And I don’t feel any responsibility towards them at all.
If you don’t want your narcissistic mother coming to live with you, then a good compromise might be to provide for her in a nursing home, and be responsible for her care there. That way you have the knowledge that she is well looked after, without having to deal with her taking over your household and your life.
But if you do have her to live with you, I suggest you know that you do not have to put up with her abuse even so. You have the power now, unlike when you were a child.
I am absolutely not suggesting abusing her in your turn, needless to say. That would be returning evil with evil for sure.
But in the same way that people use power over toddlers in an appropriate way, you can use your power over her now that she is older and weaker.
Set consequences, and be strong about them. Don’t engage in discussions, just make the rules clear and have consequences for breaking them. “If you shout at me I am going to leave the room for 10 minutes.” And then do that, and if she continues to shout at you when you come back, you can repeat that. Obviously the details will vary depending on her infirmity and your situation, but that is the idea. Don’t be scared to be firm, I suggest. I recommend my EFT video Erase The Fear Of Her That Keeps You Trapped to help you release your automatic fear reaction to her.
But truly, do think really really hard about even putting yourself in this situation. Once she’s living with you it can be impossible, or nearly so, to get her out, and it most likely will be absolute torture for you and your family.
Here are some suggestions about living with your narcissistic mother.
Just play the game with her at home, do what you need to do to keep her peaceful and happy. Don’t stand up to her if at all possible. As you’ve no doubt found out, you just won’t win that battle and so you could take the strategic decision not to even try, and to save yourself that stress. The only exception would be if she’s the sort that needs the drama and needs the row, and will keep prodding you until you react. In that case, react early, let her get her drama and her satisfaction, and then move on.
Whichever you do: conceding immediately, or having a little drama first, you can think, “You think you’re winning but you really aren’t because I see through you and I’m actually manipulating you here.”
So she thinks she’s winning, but you really are.
Give her as little information as possible. She will use all that you say against you. So try not to tell her your dreams, projects or problems. Her need for drama and attention might work against this, as she demands this information, which is why I say ‘as little as possible’.
It’s also essential that you don’t believe what she says to you about you. She doesn’t have your best interests at heart if she’s narcissistic, so this is not constructive criticism designed to help you. These statements are arrows designed to wound you.
You could imagine a perspex shield all around you and literally visualise the words bouncing off that and dropping harmlessly to the ground. Or bouncing back and piercing her instead. Above all, don’t believe her, don’t let the words penetrate you and become part of your reality.